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Fred Funk rues long game dominance

Fun-loving American Fred Funk has ridden the crest of a wave since his surprise victory at last year's Players Championship.

As one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, however, he is distressed that so few courses in the modern game match this week's layout as a fair test for every player in the field.

"It's not like when you go to some of the other venues where it's just bombs away and you pretty much see all the bombers," Funk told reporters at the TPC at Sawgrass on Wednesday.

"To be a top 10 (player) in the world, you've got to be one of the long hitters.

"This golf course still stands up to the power game because it's a position golf course, and it's a penal golf course. If you miss it off line, you're penalised big time. And the rough gets really heavy.

"This course is going to reward you all the way around," added Funk, who became the oldest Players champion in history at the age of 48. "It brings more guys into the mix and it's nice to see that.

"I don't mind being the shortest guy (in driving distance). But they (golf course designers) jack the tees back and they don't change the greens.

"They say: 'Okay, we've got to jack the tees back to protect the golf course from the long guys.' Well, that takes all the short guys completely out of it, leaving all the long guys up at the top, unless the others have a great putting week, chipping week."

The straightest driver on the PGA Tour, Funk produced superb putting form on his way to a one-shot victory in last year's rain-hit tournament on the 7,093-yard Stadium Course.

He holed 64 putts out of 69 from inside 10 feet over the week, leading the field in this category.

More predictably, he also led the field in driving accuracy and greens in regulation, a feat he was reminded about at last year's U.S. Masters by former world number one Nick Price.

"I didn't even realise it but Nick Price told me that at Augusta in the locker room," Funk said.

"He shook my hand, put his arm around me and said: 'It's about time we had a tournament winner lead those two stats and it meant something.'

"It was nice to hear that coming from Nick. He's in my same ballpark. He hits it longer than I do but he's not a bomber by any means."

Since winning the biggest title of his career in the tournament unofficially dubbed the fifth major, the ever-smiling Funk has had a ball.

"It's been a whirlwind a little bit with the media requests and demands and other things I've been doing, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said.

"It's great to come back and all the publicity and notoriety and accolades I've gotten after winning the Players have really been a lot of fun.

"It's been a nice ride. Although I feel when tomorrow morning shows up and that first ball goes in the air, I disappear off the map unless I do something again to defend my title."

Ponte Vedra resident Funk is scheduled to tee off at 0824 local time (1324 GMT) in Thursday's first round with fellow Americans Wes Short junior and Woody Austin.

March 23, 2006


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